Manitoba Matters VIII: A Policy Event

Communication, Accountability, and Policy Development

By: Adams Abdul Salam

December 15, 2018

Under the theme of “Communication, Accountability, and Policy Development,” the annual Liberal Party of Canada (Manitoba) Policy event took place on November 24, 2018 in Headingley, Manitoba. The event brought together Liberal electoral district association representatives from across the province. They were there to learn about policy issues from a range of speakers including Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, and Omar Raza, the Liberal Party of Canada’s National Policy Chair.

The objective of this event was to educate members on policy and platform development processes within the Liberal Party. The event provided an opportunity to examine and provide updates on past and current issues including the National Pharmacare program, electoral reform, the environment, First Nations relationships, and the relationship between the province and Canada.

The day’s event included three main sessions, which were 
(1) Update on past and current issues
(2) Why rural matters, and 
(3) Policy and platform development.

Of special note, at the request of the Liberal Party of Canada (Manitoba), the Rural Development Institute and faculty from Brandon University presented on rural policy issues in the second session. This part of the event featured three rural researchers from Brandon University:

▪ Dr. Rachel Herron, Canada Research Chair in Rural and Remote Mental Health and a partner at the Rural Development Institute;
▪ Mr. Wayne Kelly, program coordinator for the Rural Policy Learning Commons, an international rural policy partnership project hosted at Brandon University, and
▪ Dr. Mikaël Akimowicz, a research fellow at the Rural Development Institute, whose background is in agricultural economics.

They offered research presentations focusing on different facets of rural policy that will be important for the next election.

Policy platform and development

Mr. Omar Raza, the Liberal Party of Canada’s National Policy Chair, delivered the final session, a presentation on policy and platform development.

Omar Raza sharing his perspective on policy and platform development

Specifically, Mr. Raza discussed the process of policy development within the Liberal Party of Canada and categorized policy work in terms of three components: the policy itself, process, and people.

Policy

According to Mr. Raza, policy is built from all the work and time we spend with our neighbours and colleagues. It consists of all the resolutions and words we put together that capture the essence of what is important to us. These ideas are debated and discussed and subsequently incorporated into the party platform. For instance, the 2018 Halifax conference prioritized 15 resolutions. These resolutions came out of policy ideas the grassroots Liberals brought to the party and government leaders. They are the issues that registered Liberals voted to prioritize. The top priority was the universal and national Pharmacare policy.

Process

Mr. Raza used the Ontario policy development process to illustrate how the federal process works and what it involves. The Ontario process involves physical town hall meetings to discuss and debate issues. In Raza’s view, this approach is constructive and helpful, but it is incomplete. Some indigenous colleagues and neighbours, according to Mr. Raza, complained about the challenges of driving from rural communities to Toronto or to a suburban community, as it is both time consuming and expensive. Thus, a new process was adopted, which was to use a digital platform (e.g. Google Hangout) for easier interactions among members. This digital platform was found to be a useful engagement tool as it allowed members to have a stress-free connection to the party’s policy process. The successes and failures of this communication strategy have yet to be determined; however, there is at least a process that would allow the people outside urban communities to be active members of the policy process.

People

Mr. Raza described how, in developing policies, there are often ideas and a potential process. What is usually forgotten is that policy is just words, “a collection of words that represent the people, where [policy] comes from.” There is a fixation on documents at the expense of the actual people behind the policies. He further argued that these people are not only the most critical piece in policy and platform development: these people are also essential to the electoral successes or failures of a political party. He used French President Emmanuel Macron’s electoral success as an example of how continuous engagement with the people could be critical to a successful political campaign.

Mr. Raza spoke about how President Macron established his “people-powered” En Marche! (On the Move!) movement in 2016. Having established En Marche!, Macron mobilized his growing ranks of energized but inexperienced En Marche! activists. The campaign used a system to identify districts and neighborhoods that were most representative of France as a whole. They sent out people to knock on 300,000 doors. These volunteers didn’t just hand out flyers but also carried out 25,000 in-depth 15-minute interviews with voters across the country. It was a massive focus group for Macron in gauging the temperature of the country. The information was subsequently entered into a large database, which helped inform campaign priorities and policies and ultimately delivered the 2017 electoral success.

In the Canadian federal context, for the Liberal Party to secure a consecutive majority government, Mr. Raza believes there needs to be continuous engagement with the people. This, he notes, will allow Liberals to know their neighbours, communities, and diverse cultural groups within their regions. It will also allow them to build relationships and trust within those constituencies. This engagement will create the connections and relationships necessary to secure a consecutive majority government in 2019.

Why Rural Matters

Supporting sustainable rural care for older people

Prior to Mr. Raza’s presentation, Dr. Rachel Herron, Canada Research Chair at Brandon University and a partner at the Rural Development Institute, shared her unique perspective on how to sustain rural care for older people in Manitoba. (Click here to access Dr. Herron’s presentation)

Dr. Rachel Herron discussing how to support older people across Canada

According to Dr. Herron, rural populations are aging at a faster rate than urban ones. Rural demographics are shifting due to youth out-migration, aging in place, and retiree in-migration. These older rural people may have declining health. Their health issues strain support networks as many of their relatives have moved away from rural areas. As an example, the number of people living with dementia keeps growing in Manitoba: in 2018, a total of 20,235 people are living with a dementia diagnosis, and this number is projected to increase to 47,021 by 2045. Dr. Herron argued that despite this increase, there is inadequate dementia-related support and education services in rural areas. She specifically mentioned the limited availability of respite care, day programs, supports for those in early stages of the disease, and behavioral supports. These inadequate supports are critical challenges for people living with dementia in Manitoba and across Canada.

To address these challenges, Dr. Herron recommended innovative multi-sectoral programs that will facilitate participation and enhance the quality of life for rural older adults. Dr. Herron also argued that technology can facilitate the delivery of programming from a distance (with community support/in-room facilitation) and create new opportunities for connection. She further stated that programs must be attentive to individual histories and the characteristics of individual rural places. Finally, Dr. Rachel believes that training and leadership are needed in rural communities to improve the quality of life for older people.

Youth Retention and Digital Youth

Mr. Wayne Kelly from the Rural Development Institute shared his research work on “Youth Retention and Digital Youth” in Manitoba. (Click here to access Mr. Kelly’s presentation.) Discussing youth retention, Mr. Kelly argued that we too often focus on only one group of youth (i.e. youth who migrate to urban centres).

Wayne Kelly presenting on Youth Retention and Digital Youth

This group of youth, he argues, are often stars in the rural community. They receive all the attention and recognition by migrating to urban centres. The common hope is that these youth will go and, when they are no longer youth, return, successful and eager to help their home communities in diverse ways. These expectations, according to Mr. Kelly, create a host of challenges for the migrated youth upon their return.

There is another group of youth who have positive experiences in their rural communities and are willing to stay but do not get the attention and recognition they deserve. Many youths are forced to leave as a result of the stigma associated with staying in their communities. For instance, youth who stay in rural communities are often perceived as not being able to succeed elsewhere. Mr. Kelly shared his own struggle to come to terms with this self-imposed stigma when he returned to his hometown after completing his education somewhere else. While we give all the attention to the youth we are pushing out, Mr. Kelly argued that there is just as great a need to recognize those who are staying. They need to be made to feel that their work and presence in the community is appreciated. According to Mr. Kelly, “We should be saying ‘Stay’ and ‘We are glad you stayed.’”

Mr. Kelly believes that digital technology provides a new set of opportunities for youth in rural areas. According to him, even though there might be some challenges (due to infrastructure and isolation), digital technology can reduce geographical barriers. With digital technology, he argued, geographical barriers might not be what they used to be for rural youth. They are not a barrier to shopping, and they are certainly not a barrier to working and socializing. There are still challenges, but he believes there are a lot of opportunities.

With these opportunities in mind, Mr. Kelly stated that there is an urgent need to know the capabilities of rural youth. As we encourage youth not to go elsewhere to work, there is a need to ensure they are ready to take advantage of the opportunities available. According to him, youth — whether urban or rural — do not always have the digital skills that we assume they do. Mr. Kelly further noted that “youth don’t necessarily fear digital technology, but they are not inherently digital experts.” Mr. Kelly’s research revealed that whereas friendship-driven digital technology use (eg. Snapchat and Instagram for keeping in touch with friends) was prominent among rural youth, interest- driven use of technology (eg. Twitter and Kijiji, for staying engaged with community issues and pursuing hobbies) was a major challenge. According to Mr. Kelly, this challenge arises because rural communities generally lack the resources (computers), support, and infrastructure (good Internet connections) that are common in urban centres. Mr. Kelly thus concluded that supporting interest-driven technology use is a critical part of building digital capacity, ability, and opportunities in rural areas. This support must start with youth.

Generally, the Manitoba Matters policy event was interesting and informative. I enjoyed all the presentations, including Dr. Mikaël Akimowicz’s presentation, which will be a topic for a future blog post. It was a pleasure meeting Mr. Dougald Lamont, the leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, and Mr. Terry Duiguid, MP for Winnipeg South. I also enjoyed the politics and the critique of the ruling Conservatives in Manitoba.